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Public Interest Design Lab

In 2021, Washington, D.C. is at the epicenter of threats to civil society and to our shared humanity. Recent events have also demonstrated how planning and design contribute to conditions of injustice just as they can and must be used to restore justice to our cities. The mission of our collaborative Public Interest Design LAB is to use design to strengthen the social bonds that are vital to a thriving, equitable city, and to support the development of design practitioners from many fields confronting the most urgent issues in their communities.

June 2, 2021: Introducing the First Cohort of Public Interest Design Lab Fellows

We are pleased to announce the first cohort of fellows in a new design opportunity from DC Public Library and the Goethe-Institut: The Public Interest Design Lab.

The fellowship was created to support six design practitioners based in the District of Columbia confronting the most urgent issues in their communities. The goal of the fellowship is to support the development of existing projects that confront inequities and foster connectivity through community-based design.

The fellows come from a wide range of professional backgrounds including architecture, community design, education, landscape architecture, social practice, and the visual and performing arts. The fellows of the first cohort are:

Adrienne Gaither
Jenn Low
Anna McCorvey
Leigh Davis
Jessica Valoris
Josef Palermo

For the duration of 2021, fellows will receive professional development opportunities including design mentorship from local and international experts, access to institutional resources and a project stipend. All fellows will also have opportunities to share their work in progress with invited experts and members of the public, tailored to the needs of their project.

The fellowship was juried by:

Omar Hakeem (@tobedone.studio on Instagram), AIA, an architect working in the DC area as well as nationally to bring greater social and environmental equality through thoughtful design and planning.

Anthony Harris, a Senior Architect at Quinn Evans, where he focuses on cultural and community-focused projects.

Dian Holton (@dianholton on Instagram) is senior deputy art director at @aarp where she oversees creative for @thegirlfriendletter, @sistersletter and @aarpethel.

About the Fellows

Leigh Davis - Headshot PIDL © Leigh Davis Leigh Davis is an interdisciplinary artist whose work explores the intersection of culture, community, memory, and place. She is drawn to site-specific work in contexts that present their own spirituality or sense of community, using this intrinsic human quality to complement the stories she tells through her installations. Her audio work Vigil, recently installed at Green-Wood Cemetery (Brooklyn), featured songs from the Threshold Choir, encouraging participants to sit with others in grief and meditate on individual or collective experiences of loss. Inquiry into the ELE (2016-19), a film sponsored by NYFA, featured at Vox Populi (Philadelphia). Davis has exhibited projects at Open Source Gallery and BRIC (Brooklyn), EFA Project Space (NYC), Oliver Art Center at CCA (Oakland), and MICA (Baltimore), and received grants from numerous organizations, including The Pollination Project and the NY Department of Cultural Affairs. She teaches at Parsons School of Design (NY) and lives in Washington, DC.

Instagram: @leighdavisprojects
Website: www.leighdavisprojects.com

Adrienne Gaither PIDL Headshot © Adrienne Gaither Adrienne Gaither is a visual artist, whose abstract paintings explore a variety of topics including race, familial ties, emotional health, class, and the politics of geometric abstraction. She has held solo exhibitions at Transformer in Washington D.C., Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) in Brooklyn, and Union Arts in Washington D.C. Her work has been exhibited in a host of group exhibitions at Cuchifritos Gallery in New York, DeNovo Gallery in Washington D.C., and Prizm Art Fair, among others. She has been commissioned by the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Sundance Film Festival, and PepsiCo. Her work appeared in Margo Crawford’s 2017 monograph Black Post-Blackness: The Black Arts Movement and Twenty-First-Century Aesthetics, in which Crawford writes of Adrienne’s work: “Gaither’s use of abstraction as a means of critiquing the twenty-first century rhetoric of colorblindness is one of the most powerful usages of black abstraction …” Adrienne’s work has also appeared in D'ailleurs & d'ici! #2 and D'ailleurs & d'ici! #3 by Marc Cheb Sun. In 2018, she was awarded a fellowship from the D.C. Commission of the Arts and Humanities, a position in which she continues to hold. Adrienne holds a Master of Fine Arts from Howard University. She currently resides in Washington, D.C.

Instagram: @rockyyoadrienne
Website: www.adriennegaither.com

Jenn Low PIDL Headshot © Jenn Low Jenn Low is an integrative designer, educator and landscape architect. She is a Board Director at the Urban Studio and Deputy Director of the 1882 Foundation where she leads a collection of place-keeping initiatives in D.C.'s Chinatown. With thirteen years of experience as a landscape architect and her recent studies as an integrative designer, Low works at the intersection of participatory design and public history, and her work seeks to redistribute power in our design processes to advance our work toward spatial justice. Low is also a core organizer with Dark Matter University, a collective of design educators working toward an anti-racist model of design education and practice.

Instagram: @jennlow
Website: www.jennwlow.com 

Anna McCorvey PIDL Headshot © Anna McCorvey Anna McCorvey found architecture through housing; public housing to be more specific. At a young age she noticed the subtle and sometimes flagrant differences between the housing and schools from one part of town to the next. Her desire to understand these differences and address them led her to a Bachelors of Architecture degree from Howard University and a Masters of City Planning degree from the University of California Berkeley with a housing and community development emphasis. Upon graduating, she spent 4 years at Wiencek and Associates Architects and Planners working on affordable and low-income housing developments. She is now an architect at Cox Graae + Spack Architects designing schools and other buildings that serve the public. In 2018, McCorvey started the River East Design Center, a community design center with a mission to empower underserved communities to shape their own environments. The design center does this by providing educational opportunities and low-cost design services to DC's ward 7 and 8 communities.

Instagram: @rivereastdesign
Website: www.annamccorvey.com | www.rivereastdc.org 

Josef Palermo PIDL Headshot © Josef Palermo Josef Palermo is an artist, producer, and arts organizer living and working in Washington, DC, where he creates immersive intermedia art experiences presented through radically accessible exhibitions. His work explores the universal aspects of human existence, utilizing both new media and traditional visual art forms combined with performance, installation, and experiential design. His Public Design Lab fellowship project is inspired by the German people's proven ability to reclaim public spaces previously associated with trauma, and intends to reaffirm the principles upon which Washington, DC's iconic Black Lives Matter Plaza was founded by reactivating it as a site for collective healing, mutual aid, community arts, and liberatory education through design informed by the direct collaborative engagement of those at the frontlines of the Black Lives Matter movement in the American capital.

Instagram: @startwatching.me
Website: www.josefpalermo.com

Jessica Valoris PIDL Headshot © Jessica Valoris Jessica Valoris is a Washington DC based multidisciplinary installation artist. Inspired by Afrofuturism, metaphysics, and historical memory, Valoris builds installations and experiences that are sacred, intentional, and activated. Weaving together sound collage, painting, sculpture, and facilitated events, Valoris creates portals: immersive environments through which participants are invited to reconnect and conversate with personal and universal truths. Informed by her Black American and Jewish ancestry, Valoris holds an emphatically multidimensional worldview which is reflected in her vividly eclectic visuals and dynamic installations. Using art as a catalyst for collective healing, Valoris affirms the joy and vitality of Black people, complicating flattened histories of oppression, and creating space for affirmative celebration and re-definition. Valoris values collaboration with community-based organizations and cultural workers, and her work is a tool, resource, and space for culturally-relevant wellness and resilience. 

Instagram: @jessicavaloris
Website: www.jessicavaloris.com

About the DC Public Library

The District of Columbia Public Library is a vibrant center of activity for residents and visitors in the nation’s capital. The library provides environments that invite reading, learning and community discussion and equips people to learn all their lives, to embrace diversity and to build a thriving city. We are proud to be a recognized force in the community for engaging the mind, expanding opportunities and elevating the quality of life. DC Public Library has 25 locations in every Ward of the city, including the recently modernized Martin Luther King Jr. (Central) Memorial Library, a Mies van der Rohe building that has been thoughtfully renovated by Mecanoo Architecten (Netherlands) and OTJ Architects (Washington, DC).

The People’s Archive, DC Public Library’s repository for historic photographs, maps and ephemera, connects residents to unique resources that illustrate the District of Columbia’s local history and culture. 

The Labs at DC Public Library are innovative, collaborative, and educational spaces containing tools and resources that help District residents gain valuable skills for personal and workforce development. The Labs at DC Public Library consists of three primary programs: the Fab Lab, the Studio Lab, and the Memory Lab. All three programs are housed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

The fellowship is informed by three pillars of a long-standing collaboration between the DC Public Library and the Goethe-Institut: cultural exchange, increasing access to educational resources, and a philosophical commitment to design for the public good. The project is made possible by the generous support of the Goethe-Institut and the DC Public Library Foundation. 

About the Goethe-Institut

The Goethe-Institut is the cultural institute of the Federal Republic of Germany with a global reach. With 157 institutes in 98 countries, it promotes knowledge of German abroad, encourages international cultural exchange and conveys an image of contemporary Germany. Our cultural and educational programs encourage intercultural dialogue and enable cultural involvement. With our network of Goethe-Instituts, Goethe Centers, Pop-Ups, cultural societies, we are partners for all who actively engage with Germany and its culture, working independently and without political ties. 


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